Charles W. (Charles Washington) Moores.

The life of Abraham Lincoln for boys and girls (Volume c.1) online

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proud, and pampered enemy. Did we brave all then to
falter now, — now, when that same enemy is wavering,
dissevered, and belligerent ? The result is not doubtful.
We shall not fail — if we stand firm, we shall not fail.
Wise counsels may accelerate, or mistakes delay it, but,
sooner or later, the victory is sure to come."



CHAPTER X

THE DEBATES WITH DOUGLAS

The term of Stephen A. Douglas, as United States
Senator, was about to expire in 1858. He returned
to Illinois in the summer of that year to find the
people aroused over the slavery question as they never
had been before, and the new Republican party under
Lincohi's leadership eager to do battle.

The two men had been rivals for twenty years. It
was while Lincoln was serving his first term in the
legislature that Douglas, a young man of twenty-one,
had come from Vermont to Illinois. He was as poor as
Lincoln had been four years before, when at the same
age he drove his father's ox-team across the prairie.
But Lincoln remained poor and obscure, while Douglas
rose at once to prominence. At twenty-two Douglas
was State's attorney, and in six years more he had
been legislator, register of the land-office, secretary of
state, and judge of the supreme court. At thirty-three
he had served two terms in Congress and was made
United States Senator. He was reelected Senator in
1852, and now, in 1858, he was asking the people of
Illinois to elect him again. He had been twice a promi-
nent candidate for President, and he was now the most
conspicuous man in public life in the United States.
In the legislature of the State and in Congress, in court
and on the stump, he and Lincoln had been constantly
in each other's way. Even in the social life of Spring-
field and in seeking the good graces of Mary Todd, he
had been Lincoln's rival.



60 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

The two men were most unlike, in looks, in manner
of speech, in social condition, and in temperament. It
was a strange rivalry. Lincoln was a physical giant,
lank and bony in figure, yellow in face, with high cheek-
bones, a long neck, a heavy jaw, and a large mouth
with deep lines drawn about it. With his hollow cheeks
and his look of hopeless melancholy, when his face was
in repose, his gray eyes deep set beneath bushy eye-
brows and giving out no expression, except when he
was aroused from his habit of absent-minded contem-
plation, he was at all times a figure at once fascinating
and unapproachable. When he was awakened from
his far-away mood, his eyes flashed and his face lighted
up with a smile whose sweetness and charm were irre-
sistible.

His voice was a high, clear tenor which, in his occa-
sional moments of passionate excitement, became thin
and shrill. He wore shabby clothes, probably because
he could not afford anything better, but he cared little
for appearances. His mind was absorbed with serious
things.

Douglas was a little over five feet in height, and
thickset, with a lion-like head crowned with a luxuri-
ance of soft brown hair. His voice has been compared
with the rich bass tones of a cathedral organ, thrilling
men's bodies as well as their souls. He dressed with
scrupulous neatness, and carried himself with the grace
and some of the imperious air of a prince of the blood
royal. His life had been one continuous series of suc-
cesses. Everything he wanted had come to him, as if
by right, until he considered himself a child of fortune,
while Lincoln had learned by bitter experience all the
lessons that disappointment and sorrow have to teach.
In this struggle for the senatorship, Douglas was to



THE DEBATES WITH DOUGLAS 61

have one more victory and Lincoln another disap-
pointment.

In one of his speeches, Lincohi paid this tribute to his
adversary : " Twenty-two years ago," he said, " Judge
Douglas and I became acquainted. We were both
young then, he a trifle younger than I (four years).
Even then we were both ambitious — I perhaps quite
as much as he. With me the race of ambition has been
a failure — a flat failure. With him it has been one of
splendid success. His name fills the nation and is not
unknown in foreign lands. I affect no contempt for the
hio-h eminence he has reached. I would rather stand
upon that eminence than wear the richest crown that
ever decked a monarch's brow. The judge means to
keep me down — not put me down, for I have never
been up." In this tribute Lincohi showed in his own
nature a modesty for which the world has always loved
him.

Having made up his mind that the slavery question
must be brought home to every voter, and that Doug-
las's position, of not caring whether slavery was ex-
tended into the Territories or not, was wrong, Lincoln
challenged Douglas to a public discussion of the ques-
tion. He believed that a series of debates in which he
and Douglas should speak from the same platform to
the same people would give him an opportunity to reach
many of the Democrats who would not come to Repub-
lican meetings, and would keep the people alive to the
seriousness of the situation. Douglas accepted the chal-
lenge. The debates were arranged so that one should
occur at each of seven different places. Each debate
was to last for three hours, the time being divided
equally between the two speakers. The places chosen
were Ottawa, Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston, Gales-



62 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

burg, Qiiincy, and Alton. These were small country
towns widely scattered over the State.

Hither flocked the friends of each speaker, each
crowd ^vild with enthusiasm for its own candidate.
Men came from other States, and reporters from Chi-
cago, New York, and other cities, traveled with the
speakers, the Chicago reporters sending to their papers
every word that was spoken, so that straightway the
world was reading the speeches and discussing every-
where the right and wrong of slavery and the argu-
ments for and against popular sovereignty which
Douglas and Lincoln were making.

The two men were equally matched. Each had had
a lifelong training in public speaking and each was
perfectly at home on the platform, quick to take ad-
vantage in the discussion, and ready to meet any at-
tack, however savage. It was a battle of the giants.
Each was admired and loved by his own supporters
and admired and feared by the supporters of the other.
And each, firmly convinced that he was right, had the
confidence in his own cause which a conviction of the
right always gives. Both were terribly in earnest.

Lincoln commenced his speech accepting the nomi-
nation to the senatorship with a prophecy about slav-
ery which he believed might not come true for " a
hundred years at least," but which was actually ful-
filled seven years later, when, as a result of the Civil
War, the slaves were set free throughout the United
States. He said : " ' A house divided against itself
cannot stand.' I believe this government cannot endure
permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect
the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house
to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.
It will become all one thing, or aU the other. Either



THE DEBATES WITH DOUGLAS 63

the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread
of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in
the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinc-
tion ; or its advocates will push it forward till it shall
become alike lawfid in all the States, old as well as
new. North as well as South."

This was a statement of what he believed to be true,
but Douglas insisted that it expressed Lincoln's wish
rather than his belief. In Douglas's mind it meant
that Lincoln would destroy the Union unless he could
drive slavery out of all the States. " Mr. Lincoln goes
for a war of the sections," Douglas argued, " until one
or the other shall be subdued. I go for the great
principle of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, the right of
the people to decide for themselves." But Lincoln re-
sponded that when Douglas denied the truth that " a
house divided against itself cannot stand," he was dis-
puting a much higher authority than Abraham Lincoln.

It was during the debate at Charleston that Lincoln
found an opportunity to make use of the knowledge of
geometry which he had picked up as he rode the cir-
cuit not many years before. Judge Douglas had an-
swered some direct charges relating to his public acts
that had been made by Senator Trumbull by calling
Senator Trumbull a liar. Douglas was greatly excited
throughout this particular debate, and Lincoln's attacks
had not been soothing. " If you have ever studied
geometry," Lincoln argued, " you remember that by a
course of reasoning Euclid proves that aU the angles
in a triangle are equal to two right angles. Euclid has
shown you how to work it out. Now, if you undertake
to disprove that proposition, and to show that it is
erroneous, would you prove it to be false by calling
Euclid a liar?"



64 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

As the debates proceeded, the public interest grew
to a feverish state of excitement. The audience in
some places numbered twenty thousand, the men and
women and children coming into the town on horse-
back, in wagons, and on foot, with brass bands and
with fife and drum, and crowding the dusty highways
for fifteen or twenty miles in every direction. As they
neared the town, processions were formed with ban-
ners and transparencies on which some political senti-
ment was printed, such as, " The government was made
for white men — Douglas for life"; or "Old Abe
the Giant-Killer and Rail-Splitter." A common feature
of the parade was a group of pretty girls in white on
horseback representing the States of the Union, while
a sad-looking girl in black rode alone bearing a banner
that proclaimed her to the world, "Kansas — I wiU
be free." The Democratic procession had to follow a
different road from that taken by the Republicans to
avoid the danger of a riot.

When the speaking began, the shouting and the
tumult ceased and men listened breathless to the man
they loved or feared, feeling that on the words they
heard the fate of the nation rested. Sometimes one or
the other debater caught the infection of the popular
excitement and sprang to his feet to deny his oppo-
nent's statements, but was pulled back into his seat
with the reminder that silence would be wise.

When Lincoln arose to speak, he showed at first
some timidity as he stood at full height towering above
his rival, so that as he began to answer the elegant
Douglas, even his friends, for the moment, felt sorry
for him. He planted himself squarely on his feet, with
his hands clasped behind him, and stood almost motion-
less, talking in an awkward, friendly fashion to men



THE DEBATES WITH DOUGLAS 65

whom he treated like old acquaintances. As he warmed
to his subject, he would soon forget himself. He had a
fashion of standing still, while he spoke in his deliber-
ate, familiar way, until he came to some climax where
he thought he had made a point on Senator Douglas,
when he would swing his long right arm with his long
bony forefinger in an abrupt circle as if drawing a line
in the air about the point he had just made, and there
would come over his face a smile of assured good will,
as if to say in confidence to an audience of old friends,
"Didn'tlo-et the Little Giant that time?" This char-
acteristic trick of speech and the warmth of the smile
that went with it seldom failed to win the sympathy
of any wavering voter into whose eager face he looked.

A boy who heard the debates recalls that " while I
had thought Lincoln the homeliest man I ever saw, he
was the handsomest man I ever listened to in a speech.
Lincoln, in action, no one has ever been able to de-
scribe. He was simply grandeur itself."

One of the reporters who later became a journalist
of note has described his unique way of speaking:
"The impression made upon me by the orator was
quite overpowering. I have never heard anything since
that I would put on a higher plane of oratory. All the
strings that play upon the human heart and under-
standing were touched with masterly skill and force,
while beyond and above all skill was the overwhelming
conviction pressed upon the audience that the speaker
was charged with an irresistible and inspiring duty to
his fellow men. Although I heard him many times
afterward, I shall longest remember him as I then saw
the tall, angular form with the long, angular arms, at
times bent nearly double with excitement, like a large
flail animating two smaller ones, the mobile face wet



66 ABIUHAM LINCOLN

with perspiration which he discharged in drops as he
threw his head this way and that like a projectile —
not a graceful figfure, yet not an unoraceful one. After
listening to him a few minutes, nobody would mind
whether he was graceful or not. All thought of grace
or form would be lost in the exceeding attractiveness
of what he was saying."'

The debates started all America to thinking. The
slavery question was no longer only a question of poli-
tics ; it had come to be a question of good and evil.
And the man who had presented unanswerably the
cause of liberty had become a national figure, to whom
all who would restrain the slave power were beginning
to turn for leadershij).

Lincoln summed up the whole controversy in these
words, which left nothing more to be said : '' That is
the real issue. That is the issue that will continue
in this country when these poor tongues of Judge
Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal
struggle between these two principles, right and wrong,
throughout the world."'

Douglas won the senatorship, but his advocacy of
popular sovereignty had driven President Buchanan
and the Southern leaders into active hostility to him
and to all that he had argued for, and split the Demo-
cratic party in two, the Northern Democrats being for
him and the Southern Democrats bitterly opposed to
him. Lincoln lost the senatorship, but he had gained
the whole North for an audience, and had given the
Republican party courage for the national struggle
that was soon to come. He himself was no longer an
obscui-e country lawyer. The world was beginning to
listen to him and to watch with eagerness for what-
ever he might have to say.



THE DEBATES WITH DOUGLAS 67

He was disappointed at his defeat, but he felt that
the fight had not been in vain, for it had awakened
the enemies of slavery to the real danger that confronted
them. He wrote to a friend : " I am glad I made the
late race. It gave me a hearing on the great and durable
question of the age, which I could have had in no other
way ; and though I now sink out of view, and shall be
forgotten, I believe I have made some marks which
wiU tell for the cause of civil liberty long after I am
gone."



CHAPTER XI

THE NOMINATION

The campaign for the senatorsliip had left Lincoln
poorer than ever ; it had kept him from earning any-
thing at the law, and it had burdened him with heavy
expense. Douglas had gone about in private cars and
special trains, while Lincoln had only such accommoda-
tion as he had the money to pay for, sometimes a horse,
sometimes a crowded railway coach, sometimes the
caboose of a leisurely freight train. When he made his
contribution to the campaign fund, it was with the con-
fession that he was " absolutely without money now,
even for household purposes." He went back reluc-
tantly to the law, for he felt that his country needed
his services now more than ever before. To a friend
he wrote, " The fight must go on. The cause of civil
liberty must not be surrendered at the end of one,
or even one hundred defeats." He earned a little by
delivering a few lectures, and he got back for a few
months into a fairly active law practice. But it was
only for a few months. To him came appeals from all
parts of the country to help in the fight against slavery.
He declined an invitation to speak in Boston in April,
1859, because he could not leave his work; but in the
fall, he spoke in Kansas and Wisconsin, and followed
Douglas into Ohio, speaking in the same places and
answering the Little Giant's arguments much as he
had done in Illinois the year before.

Lincoln's speeches had been printed and read all over
the country. Republicans here and there were begin-



THE NOMINATION 69

ning to say to one another, " If Douglas is to be the
Democratic candidate for the presidency, what better
choice could there be for his antagonist than Abra-
ham Lincoln?" When an occasional suggestion of this
sort reached him, Lincoln was entirely sincere in his
answer, " I must say I do not think myself fit for the
presidency " ; or, as he wi-ote to a Western judge, " It
seems as if they ought to find somebody who knows
more than I do."

Early in 1860, he was invited to New York to lec-
ture at Cooper Institute. The audience which was to
hear him was made up of some of the most cultivated
people in the United States. David Dudley Field and
Horace Greeley were on the committee. William Cidlen
Bryant was to preside. The idea that he, the self-taught,
modest country lawyer could possibly bring anything
to this educated company of Eastern people that they
would care to hear, seemed strange to him, and he hesi-
tated to accept the invitation.

It is interesting to know how the orator from the
prairies impressed one of that audience who has given
us his recollections of the speech. " It is now forty
years," said Mr. Joseph H. Choate, "since I first saw
and heard Abraham Lincoln, but the impression which
he left on my mind is ineffaceable. . . . He appeared
in every sense of the word like one of the plain people
among whom he loved to be counted. At first sight
there was nothing impressive or imposing about him —
except that his great stature singled him out from the
crowd ; his clothes hung awkwardly on his giant frame,
his face was of a dark pallor without the slightest tinge
of color ; his seamed and rugged features bore the fur-
rows of hardship and struggle ; his deepset eyes looked
sad and anxious ; his countenance in repose gave little



70 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

evidence of that brain-power wliich had raised him from
the lowest to the highest station among his countr3^men ;
as he tallied to me before the meeting, he seemed ill at
ease, with that sort of apprehension which a young man
might feel before presenting himself to a new and
strange audience, whose critical disposition he dreaded.
. . . When he spoke he was transformed ; his eye kin-
dled, his voice rang, his face shone and seemed to light
up the whole assembly. For an hour and a half he held
his audience in the hollow of his hand."

Lincoln chose for a text Senator Douglas's proposition
that the men who had created the nation and framed
its Constitution " had understood the slavery question
just as well and even better than we do now," and
proceeded to show that they had seen the evils of slavery,
and planned the government so as to keep slavery out
of the Territories and put it in the way of ultimate
extinction. He went on : " As those fathers marked it,
so let it be again marked, as an evil not to be extended,
but to be tolerated and protected only because of and
so far as its actual presence among us makes that tol-
eration and protection a necessity." This was as far
as Lincoln's party had yet gone in its opposition to
slavery, — that it was " an evil not to be extended."
The difference between South and North, as he explained
it, was a difference as to whether slavery was right, as
the South believed, or wrong, as the North believed.

" Wrong as we think slavery is," Lincoln said in
the conclusion of his speech, "we can yet afford to let
it alone where it is, because that much is due to the
necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation ;
but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to
spread into the national Territories, and to overrun us
here in these free States ? If our sense of duty forbids



THE NOMINATION 71

this, then let us stand by our duty fearlessly and
effectively. . . . Neither let us be slandered from our
duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened
from it by menaces of destruction to the government,
nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that
right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end
dare to do our duty as we understand it,"

From New York he went into New England, where
he followed the same line of argument, insisting that
under the Declaration of Independence the negro was
entitled to an equal riglit with tlie white man in the
enjoyment of life, liberty, and happiness. " One of the
reasons why I am opposed to slavery is just here," he
argued. " When one starts poor, as most do in the race
of life, free society is such that he knows he can bet-
ter his condition ; he knows that there is no fixed con-
dition of labor for his whole life. I am not ashamed
to confess that twenty-five years ago I was a hired
laborer, mauling rails, at work on a flatboat — just what
might happen to any poor man's son. I want every
man to have a chance — and I believe a black man is
entitled to it — in which he can better his condition
— when he may look forward and hope to be a hired
laborer this year and the next, work for himself after-
ward, and finally to hire men to work for him. That is
the true system."

At New Haven he made his hearers think of slavery
as a serpent. He said : " If I saw a venomous snake
crawling in the road, any man would say I might seize
the nearest stick and kill it ; but if I found that snake
in bed with my children, that would be another ques-
tion. I might hurt the children more than the snake,
and it might bite them. Much more, if I found it in
\)ed with my neighbor's children, and I had bound



72 ABRAHAM LINCOLN

myself by a solemn compact not to meddle with his
children under any circumstances, it woidd become me
to let that particular mode of getting rid of the gen-
tleman alone. But if there was a bed newly made up,
to which the children were to be taken, and it was pro-
posed to take a batch of young snakes and put them
there with them, I take it no man would say there was
any question how I ought to decide. That is just the
case. The new Territories are the newly made bed to
which our children are to go, and it lies with the nation
to say whether they shall have snakes mixed up with
them or not. It does not seem as if there could be much
hesitation what our policy should be."

The representation of slavery as a deadly snake
turned loose among innocent children was not a pleas-
ant illustration, but it captured the attention of men
and stuck in their memory. So, when at Hartford,
Connecticut, he followed it by comparing slavery to a
wen he had once seen on an old gentleman's neck, he
appealed to the imagination and made it impossible to
think of slavery without something of a sense of hor-
ror. " Everybody would say the wen was a great evil,
and would cause the man's death after a while; but
you could n't cut it out, for he 'd bleed to death in a
minute. But would you ingraft the seeds of that wen
on the necks of sound and healthy men ? He must
endure and be patient, hoping for possible relief. The
wen represents slavery on the neck of this country.
This only applies to those who think slavery is wrong.
Those who think it right would consider the snake a
jewel and the wen an ornament."

Before he had spoken in the East, Lincoln's fame
as a successful jury lawyer and a teller of stories had
preceded him. The Cooper Institute speech revealed



THE NOMINATION 73

an entirely different sort of man. He gave his audi-
ence no jokes and he told them no stories. He did
not even talk politics. The message he brought had to
do with national morality — with the eternal question
of good and evil. They had looked for an " .^sop of
the prairies," and Lincoln had come to them a prophet,
like Isaiah or John the Baptist, calling a nation to
repentance. In that time that tried men's souls, when
the South, determined to impose slavery on the whole
country, was threatening to break up the Union and
destroy the national government, the men of the East
began to see in Lincoln's patience and wisdom quali-
ties that other leaders did not have. It seemed to
them that Lincoln saw all sides of the great question,
and that he alone discussed it wisely and without bit-
terness. When he returned to Illinois, his name was
in everybody's mouth. In the man who, against such
odds, had proved himself the equal of Douglas in de-
bate and had forced Douglas to split the Democratic


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Online LibraryCharles W. (Charles Washington) MooresThe life of Abraham Lincoln for boys and girls (Volume c.1) → online text (page 5 of 9)